Timeliness, skill and contingency

It is said that on the third day of the third month of the year 353CE, Wang Xizhi invited 40 or so fellow scholars to a ceremony, after which they had a drinking contest.

Sitting on opposite banks of a stream, they were to compose poems while drinking. Cups of sake were floated down the stream, and in one version, wherever a cup stopped, the scholar closest to it had to extemporaneously compose a poem. If he could not come up with an impromptu poem quickly, he drank sake as the penalty. Merry they might be, but drunken scholars risked their reputations. At the end of the contest, 26 participants had composed 37 poems.

It is this timeliness, skill, and contingency—under mandates governing their interaction, and most of it done just in time—that describe a category of professionals, the challenge they undertake in conjunction with others, and the notion that being unprofessional has its own penalties.

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